Show and Sell
If you’re reading this during business hours, there’s a high chance that there are customers currently clicking through various glass options on a screen that’s embedded in an exterior door display. Such a system is one of several interactive features at the Holmes Lumber Design Center. LBM showrooms all over the country are adopting this technology, and some are even doing away with the notion of “business hours,” offering keyed entry to enable evening appointments between builders and customers.
You wouldn’t have to look far to find rapid innovation in our industry, because it’s often happening in plain view. Showrooms and design centers are literally where customers go to see, touch and size up their options — so it’s small wonder that they’re the most visible harbingers of technological innovation.
These trends cover the wide breadth between display panels and conference centers, but many businesses are also striking out on their own in small ways. HBSDealer took a closer look at three of them.
Holmes Lumber kicked off its relationship with the Ohio builders market in 1952, but the advent of the Design Center (which launched at its Millersburg headquarters in 2006) was a more recent addition.
Today, 5-out-of-12 Holmes Lumber locations have Design Centers, and that’s largely a response to explicit demand from its large pro builder customer base.
“Many of them (especially the custom home builders) expressed a need for a Design Center that they can bring or send homeowners to see different options and make selections,” said VP Steve Miller. “By us providing this and keeping it updated with the newest trends and options, it allows our builders to utilize it without having to build/maintain such a facility themselves.”
Given the constancy with which trends evolve, the Design Center may be one of the least static divisions in the company. Visitors can, at a glance, see the latest in millwork, fireplaces, stairways, windows, doors, siding, flooring and more.
“There are dozens of selection decisions in a custom home, and showing many of these options in one place streamlines the process,” Miller said.
Chic Lumber Co.
St. Peters/O’Fallon, Mo.
This full-service lumber and building materials yard was comprehensive at the get-go, encompassing a main store, retail center and manufacturing facility, and staffing two millwork and window specialists, four kitchen designers and six LBM pros.
To continue that streak, Chic Lumber opened a 7,000-sq.-ft. advanced design and conference center in November, echoing a larger trend in LBM showrooms to provide meeting spaces for pros and their customers. Much more than just a meeting room, the facility houses workstations that feature such design programs as 20/20 and CAD, which makes it easy for everyone involved to contribute ideas on the spot, and at any hour of the day (24-hour keycard access ensures this). The 30-person conference center, which sometimes hosts non-industry-related community events, is also equipped with a Bluetooth Epson smartboard that allows visitors to run PowerPoint presentations using their cellphones.
“We were in the process of opening a new division where we were trying to grow our remodeling business, and we knew that we needed a better design center or showroom to help remodelers and their clients make selections,” said president Adam Hendrix. “In this market, remodelers (and just because of ease) will often send their pro customer to big-box stores to make selections.”
The displays themselves are hands-on, and five 50-in. monitors provide 20/20 workstations or slideshows of finished projects for inspiration.
“I think it’s the future of design,” Hendrix said. “I think most LBM dealers are going to have design centers instead of traditional old showrooms going forward.”
Spahn & Rose Lumber Co.
In its more than 100 years of being in business, Spahn & Rose saw a good chunk of its evolution happen in the past year: namely when its flagship location in Dubuque got a much-need update in the form of a new showroom.
The 28,000-plus-sq.-ft. facility is more than three times the size of the old showroom, which has paved the way for more than 2,300 new SKUs and a few entirely new product categories. Within those categories, there are also options — four different types of entry doors, 15 roofing products, 20 types of windows, nine decking options and eight variations of railing, to give a few examples. Did we mention it houses an entire Model Home as well? The fully constructed, 1,000-sq.-ft. house is built with products that are available in-store or by special order.
That still leaves room for four conference rooms, where contractors and builders can meet with clients to plan and weigh their options, as well as an Internet-equipped customer idea center. In the latter space, a display monitor connected to the solar panels on the building’s roof tells visitors how much energy is being saved — in real time.
Insights on innovation
There is no shortage of innovation in the hardware and building supply industry. Just look around. HBSDealer editors did, and here’s what we found — a mixture of theories, products, best practices, labs, systems and good old common sense. There’s something for every business in our inaugural Innovation report.
Opening one door at a time
Doors have been opening and closing in a regular fashion for generations. What’s new are materials, marketing and merchandising. And that’s where the Masonite Innovation Center — or MIC — comes into play. The R&D facility in Chicago keeps the culture of innovation alive.
“One of the things that we pride ourselves on is that we solicit on a regular basis consumer research and studies around new product ideas,” said Mark Albrighton, senior director for Masonite.
One result of forward-thinking and imagination about the shopping experience is a product called the Max Configurator — an interactive program that lets homeowners visualize the endless combinations of door style, color and material. A new version (3.0) of the Max Configurator is coming out in 2016, which will actually read blueprints.
“I don’t think the brick-and-mortar retail outlets will go away,” Albrighton said. “With doors, there will always be that element of touch and feel.”
Technology for the sake of business
Dan Nesmith acknowledges having what he calls “old-school tendencies” — especially for the owner of a technology company. But in his opinion, that’s one of the strengths behind the success of Bend, Oregon-based Paladin Data Corp.
Technology’s mission is simple: to help people. And that can only happen, Nesmith explains, through intimate knowledge of how people work, and what they’re trying to accomplish.
“We are not a company mission-bent on computerizing everything in sight,” Nesmith told HBSDealer, during a telephone interview.
That means a lot of the research and development behind Paladin’s products comes from old-school methods — taking the time to understand the markets, meet the customers and find out what’s going to help the store.
One of the company’s hallmark products — market-driven inventory management — is an example of technology-for-the-sake-of-results thinking. The product is designed to improve the management of the single-largest expenditure of a dealer’s business: its inventory.
“While inventory management has largely been computerized, it’s usually nothing more than the computerized version of the old manual,” Nesmith said. “The old-fashioned system did the same thing at probably a lower cost.”
What computerization brings to the table is “pattern recognition technology” to sift through every order, every quote from an ocean of data, leading to truly automatic stocking. “How do you manage 40,000 items every day?” Nesmith says. “You need a computer. This is the kind of thing that helps businesses and helps their customers.”
Flush with ideas
American Standard opened a new industrial design studio at its Piscataway, New Jersey, research facility. The move comes following what has been described as a year of innovation for the brand, as it tripled the size of its design department and invested in an innovation team.
The new studio measures a spacious 4,200 sq. ft., with floor-to-ceiling windows and large common work surfaces. Ample facilities to develop and display mock-ups, prototypes and mobile inspiration boards further stimulate the flow of creative juices.
“You can sense the spirit of creativity as soon as you enter the new design studio,” said Jean-Jacques L’Henaff, VP design, LIXIL Water Technology Americas, American Standard and DXV, and driving force behind the redesigned facilities. “We believe that our customers, showroom and retail partners, and trade professionals will greatly benefit from the stunning design and technological innovations that will be created in this cutting-edge space.”
This “state-of-the-art” studio will further enhance communication and collaboration among the design team, the company said.
The company’s Optum VorMax Tall Height Elongated Toilet earned runner-up honors in Home Depot’s 2015 Innovation Awards.
Ready to frame, eager to sell
Lumber is cut to precision, automatically labeled and delivered to the site to be assembled. That, in a nutshell, is the idea behind BMC-Stock’s Ready-Frame, which it believes puts the company in “first-mover position” for the future of framing.
A key piece of the Ready-Frame program is the precision saw, which in a certain sense acts also as a printer. Proprietary software powers the precision cuts and labels them for installation. According to BMC, the program enables customers to frame 20% to 30% more houses in the same time frame as stick framing. It makes it easier on the job site, with minimal on-site waste.
Ready-Frame “revolutionizes” the construction process. It also reduces waste and adds simplicity. One of the latest features of the program is an app that allows the builder to guide the process from beginning to end. How’s it working? BMC Stock points to the Seattle market. Here, after three years of Ready-Frame in the market, it accounts for 55% of BMC’s Seattle LBM business.
Pruned for results
Madison, Wisconsin-based Fiskars says the innovation built into its line of PowerGear2 pruning tools comes from a study of physiology.
The line includes loppers, hedge shears and pruners, and uses an improved gear design to help make cutting branches easier. And it was also a finalist for a Fast Company 2015 Innovation by Design Award.
The line’s design is based on the result of an extensive study of the way a body interacts with a tool to help create the optimal user experience, according to Fiskars.
Say the judges: “The pruning tools are ingeniously designed with a rotating gear that provides a boost of power in the middle of the cut, where branches are thickest. Additionally, the latest models are easier on the hands, as their handles have been modified with a more oval shape and a gel skin that prevents blisters.”
Stanley Black & Decker earned an innovation award from Lowe’s for the DeWalt line of 40V Lithium outdoor power equipment.
“We celebrate our vendor partners who are committed to putting the customer first, drawing on their team’s creativity to find new and innovative ways to help people love where they live,” said Mike McDermott, Lowe’s chief merchandising officer.
BMC Stock: Next slide, please
With the official merger of BMC and Stock and the formation of BMC Stock Holdings, the new entity has a new investor presentation. One slide that catches the eye is the emphasis on “Differentiated, value-added product and service capabilities.”
Slide 9 highlights that of the 15 or so products/ services that go into the cost of a new home, BMC’s portfolio deals in about half of them, and 50% of the total cost. Based on the NAHB’s “Cost of Construction Survey” and company estimates, the top category is “framing & trusses” (16.8% average share of cost).
The biggest category not in the BMC fold is “Excavation, foundation & backfill” (11.3%.)